"…and the criticism of religion is the prerequisite of all criticism."
"Democracy is not a state in which people act like sheep."
---M. K. Gandhi
"Indians today are governed by two ideologies. Their political ideal set in the preamble of the Constitution affirms a life of liberty, equality and fraternity their social ideal embodied in their religion denies them
----B .R .Ambedkar
Nobody should have any doubts that the people of India, like human beings anywhere in the world, are sensitive people, irrespective of their race, religion, caste, gender, language, or region.
Nobody should have any doubts that most of them live by the values of secular democracy and the civil society those values aim at creating and sustaining for the common good.
But in an election year all thinking citizens of India must reflect whether they elect a government on the basis of sentiments and feelings alone and encourage sentiments to be freely expressed without regard to our common ideal of a civil society--the only such society in the world with such ethnic diversity and such a unique plurality.
For the election campaigns we have witnessed since the early 1950s have been increasingly ‘sentimental’ with the current ‘feel good’ campaign of the BJP as a ‘shining’ example of nation-wide sentiment-generation.
But between these five-year events of sentimental significance, all our political parties work hard, if not officially under their party banner then at least through their ‘parivar’s and ‘samghatana's, ‘sena’s and ‘brigades’ that assiduously work towards keeping our ‘sentiments’ alive.
Must we not laud these cadres and storm-troopers for their sentimental zeal? Don’t we owe a tribute--before we cast our votes--to the Bajrang Dal, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, the Shiv Sena, the Maratha Seva Sangh, the Sambhaji Brigade, SIMI, the Tanzeem and the Tabligue, the Raza Academy and countless others in their different hues and colours across the space of our Republic? Thanks to them in particular that we have become what we are: not just populous, but populist as well.
Faux Populi, Faux Dei!
The doctrine of populism is based on a belief in the rights, wisdom, and virtues of the common people. It is a word derived from the Latin ‘populus’ that means ‘the people’.
That’s who we all are--the People--though most of us are more ‘people’ than ‘others’. I often wonder why our founding fathers, all members of the Constituent Assembly, used the singular when they described us as ‘We the People of India’ rather than the plural alternative "We the Peoples of India".
I hope I am not accused of quibbling, carping, or pettifogging. After all, we’ve got to get the grammar of our Republic right. Using the noun ‘people’ in the plural gives us an altogether different picture than its singular conjures up. But then in 1949 we were a nation in a hurry. In 2004 we have become a nation in worry.
The elections cannot hide the worries of the electorate and the political parties appealing to their ‘sentiments’. And what really are these ‘sentiments’ about? Feeling good about what? Feeling bad about what? Feeling indifferent to what?
I am just one of one billion citizens of this Republic today. I am a writer and speak only as an individual; and I am aware that writers, artists, intellectuals, scientists, journalists et al are a microscopic minority of the kind that a Minorities Commission would not recognize. Even to be recognized as a ‘minority’ in our country, one has to belong to a ‘religion’ or a ‘scheduled caste or tribe’ or a ‘backward caste’ or an ‘other backward caste’. We have embraced a philosophy that believes in dividing minorities along these lines so that an aggregate majority would rule; and that is our simplified notion of the kind of electoral democracy we are.
So our elections become a percentage game, a religious roulette, or perhaps a mega-matka of some sort. This is the dyoota our political Yudhishthirs will play again and again and bet their wife--the Draupadi that our Constitution is on their next throw of dice.
But, to take the metaphor to its conclusion, what Krishna do we have to help our Draupadi from being totally stripped by so-many willing Dushshanas? Who will play Krishna in this mega-starrer Sabha Parva? The Supreme Court? The Election Commission? The President of the Republic? We all know what happened in The Mahabharata; and we have no better hopes nor worse fears about what is likely to happen in India that is Bharat.
Dilip Chitre, a Sahitya Akademi awardee is a poet, writer, translator of Bhakti poetry, painter and filmmaker. He lives in Pune.